- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Not that Boston coach Mike Sullivan was going to say anything publicly on the subject, but it is a pretty good bet Washington Capitals rookie Alex Ovechkin will have a few shadows following him around the ice tonight at MCI Center.

The Bruins played the New York Rangers to a 2-2 tie in regulation (but lost in a shootout) Saturday night in large part because they were able to keep Jaromir Jagr, the league’s leading scorer, off the board. Jagr began the game averaging nearly a point and a half a contest.

Boston was able to do it by putting defenseman Hal Gill and left wing P.J. Axelsson on the star right wing. Jagr has said for years he has struggled when Gill marks him one-on-one, and that was the case again.

Gill is 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds and likes to splatter forwards against the boards. Axelsson is just 6-1, 190 but is fleet afoot and an intelligent player.

If it worked against Jagr, why not try it against Ovechkin? This might be the perfect time, considering the left wing could be without his usual center, Dainius Zubrus, because of an unspecified injury.

Saturday night against Carolina, Ovechkin had his five-game goal-scoring streak snapped. He had six shots on goal, but defenseman Frantisek Kaberle did a good job of cutting off Ovechkin’s lanes to his favorite shooting zones. Boston may be thinking the combination of Gill and Axelsson could limit the wing’s production again.

“I thought the players who played against [Jagr] did a real good job,” Sullivan told Boston reporters after the game. “[Jagr has] factored in on almost half their goal production. Obviously if you can keep him off the scoreboard, it improves your chances to win.”

Sullivan was speaking of Jagr, but he could use just about the same words to describe Ovechkin.

The probability of teams shadowing Ovechkin has been on Caps coach Glen Hanlon’s mind for some time. Now that Jeff Friesen is healthy, the coach has some options that were not present earlier; Friesen was out for a third of the season with a groin problem. He can slip Friesen on the ice quickly to replace Ovechkin when he spots the two shadows or do the opposite if he sees Gill and/or Axelsson come off.

Another pleasant development for Hanlon has been the sudden improvement on offense of several Caps who have been effective defenders this season. Chief among them is Ben Clymer, who has goals in three straight games for the first time in his career. The Caps are using tough, aggressive defense as a prime offensive weapon.

Zubrus was hurt at some point in the second period of the Caps’ 5-2 win over Carolina Saturday night, but the team is barely acknowledging the injury. He played nine shifts in each of the first two periods but did not appear for the third. If he can’t go, it would be a chance for veteran center Andrew Cassels to get into a game after being inactive for 10 of the past 11.

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